Business owners and transporters in various universities in Nigeria are going through difficult times as a result of the ongoing strike by staff unions. Some of them narrated their experiences so far.
Small business owners in university campuses across the country are said to be hit hard by the strikes embarked upon by staff unions, particularly the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). The strike by university lecturers has lasted for nine months.
Businesses in the campuses are suffering because students who patronise them are at home as a result of the strike and partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Daily Trust Saturday observed that some of the business owners have closed their shops, waiting for students to resume, while others have relocated.
A greengrocer in the University of Maiduguri (UniMaid), Bilya Mato, said the number of his customers had drastically reduced; hence his business is suffering.
He said, “Students, their friends and visitors form a greater number of our customers, but they are no longer on campus. So the demand for fruits has reduced and we do not make much profit.”
Mato said that as a result of the prolonged strike by university lecturers, which also coincided with the COVID-19 restrictions, he could not make enough money to cater to the needs of his family.
“I used to save extra money for future use, apart from my main savings, but right now, I do not have enough savings,” he said.
He said he resorted to buying fruits on credit, and in most cases, had to plead with suppliers to give him additional time to pay.
He said, “I sold different types of fruits before the students left; and demand was high. This included apples, melons, berries, oranges, cashew, cashew nuts, grapefruits, bananas, peanut, carrots, and so on; but now, you can only find pawpaw, watermelon and oranges. And I bought them on credit.”
The proprietor of Golden Image, a business centre which offered computer services – printing, photocopying, lamination, instant photo printing and video coverage in UniMaid, Mohammed Dawaga, said the campus had many small business outlets but majority of them had closed down.
“Boutique owners, tailors, photographers, restaurants, bookshops and recharge card sellers are the worst hit. Some of my friends there have closed shops and left for other places. Even the few of us you find around are not making any achievement. In fact, from morning till 2pm today, no customer came to my place,” he said.
A tricycle (keke) driver also said it took longer time to get passengers to carry to any destination, unlike what obtained when the school was in session.
Daily Trust Saturday also observed that business activities have been crippled in the University of Jos (UniJos). Banks and other businesses have either closed or offered skeletal services. Cash machines installed at various locations were also dormant.
Outside the institution, our correspondent learnt that businesses that largely depend on students for patronage were also inactive.
It was also observed that taxis which were hitherto stationed outside the institution to transport passengers to different locations are no longer there.
Abubakar Abdulaziz, a typist in a shop opposite the institution explained how the strike action had affected his income.
He said, “Most of our customers are students. Before the strike, our businesses moved steadily because we were always busy. Students patronised our services so much so that we hardly stayed without doing something. They came frequently. But our income is completely down now.’’
Amadu Garba Layin Zana, who owns a provision shop in UniJos also complained about the situation, saying, “I have been here for many years doing business but I have never experienced low patronage like this. Now, we hardly get money to buy food. It has not been easy for us all this while.”
A tailor, Muhammad Haruna Yabo also said, “Most of our customers are students, and the school has been closed for over nine months. That has affected the business. I am calling on all parties to settle their differences to allow the school resume.’’
Many business owners around the institution also complained about the development and called on the government and unions to reconcile their differences so that academic activities would resume.
Also, the two host communities of the University of Ibadan (UI), Agbowo and Ajibode, are feeling the effect of the ASUU strike. Most businesses there have closed while few are apparently struggling to survive.
Our correspondent who visited the institution observed that many business owners were idle.
Some of the business owners pleaded with the Federal Government and the staff unions to resolve their differences so that students would go back to school.
A female photographer, Kemi Olatunbosun, said the strike had made things very difficult for her and her two kids.
An octogenarian in the Ajibode area said she was lonely because most of her tenants who kept her company were students and had gone back home.
A Point of Sales (POS) operator, who simply introduced herself as Aminat, said the strike affected her daily contribution of N500.
Furthermore, a woman who sells plantain in UI, Mama Chidinma, told Daily Trust Saturday that she had a ‘terrible’ experience during the first two weeks of the strike.
“When the strike began and students left, there were no customers and all the plantains I bought got rotten in our shop,’’ she said.
A taxi driver, Mr. Jelili Adio, told our correspondent that many of his colleagues had moved to other locations in the town due to low patronage.
The situation is the same in the campuses of the University of Port Harcourt (UniPort).
Owners of small businesses, such as food vendors, transporters, business centres, restaurants and confectioneries said they had been recording losses since the strike commenced nine months ago.
Many of the business owners have reportedly relocated, while others have engaged in other businesses to make ends meet.
Transporters who shuttle the two campuses now contend with fewer passengers.
A food vendor, Emenike Ani, said he had to move to another location in Port Harcourt to continue his business.
“I and my wife operate a restaurant inside the Choba campus, but since the school has been shut down as a result of the strike, we had to move to another area until the strike ends. Since the university is not in session, students, who constitute majority of our customers, are nowhere to be found. That is the reason we moved out of the campus for now,’’ he said.
A business centre operator who did not want to be named, blamed lecturers for the losses in their businesses.
“All blames go to the ASUU for the losses we have witnessed in our various businesses. I know it is their right to demand for improved welfare, but we have suffered so much losses since this strike started. We operate business centres, and for the past four months, nothing has been happening in the campus. Students are not coming to browse the internet, do photocopy and other academic works that require our services, such as projects typing and all that,’’ he said.
A transporter in UniPort, Johnmark Effiong, also complained of poor patronage.
“The strike has put us out of business in the university. Before the strike, we ferried hundreds of students between the two campuses. I had to leave the campus and now shuttling between Rumuokoro to Eleme junction to survive. I pray to go back to the campuses. When the university was in session, I made as much as N10,000 per day,’’ he said.
Credits: Reuben Abati